Datafall’s first few stories are intriguing, but stiff. They’re written with machine-like efficiency, but border on cold and lack a certain degree of emotional depth. The themes are effectively executed, but are not especially original or memorable.
Thankfully, Larson’s prose warms in the last three stories and we get a glimpse of not a good writer, but an excellent writer. Back So Soon is somewhat humorous story about self-image and relationships in a not-so-distant future. Factory Man is a fresh take on the Frankenstein theme and a bleak, but powerful, commentary on human life. As for the final tale, Datafall, Larson was smart naming the compendium for this story. This little nugget is very short and beautifully written, a perfect piece of sci-fi gold.
The reader should consider the first four stories in Datafall as the warm-up for the final three. They make this inspired compendium a worthy read for any sci-fi fan and it earns it an 82 out of 99 cents.
Keeper has a great premise and, initially, the plot moves with the required speed that makes short fiction so satisfying. I had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, not far into the story it all fell apart. Short fiction must follow one or both of these two rules: move the plot forward quickly or build scenes/characters so riveting they fully engage the reader. About six pages into Brother’s Keeper Krisch violated both rules and this novelette quickly bogged down.
A third of the book dwells on unnecessary, overdone backstory and character development. The plot completely grinds to a halt. Even if this was a full-length novel it would have been too much. This forces the reader to slog through the book, hoping it will deliver on the promise of the first few pages. Kirch violates the second rule with characters that don’t quite connect. His dialogue is fine, but the reader must pick out the good pieces amidst unnecessary wordiness.
Kirsh is a promising writer. I saw real talent in Keeper, even with its faults. Keeper didn’t necessarily falter due to lack of skill or talent – Kirsch has those. Keeper
could have been a great page turner if it had been properly edited. Simply put, Keeper wasn’t ready, even if its copy was mechanically clean. Premature publication is a
repeating theme in indie/self-published books and one that non-traditional authors must heed. Because of that, Brother’s Keeper earns only 70 out of 99 cents.
Patricide is the story of Lou-Lou, a middle-aged college dean who exists in the shadow of her brilliant father, Pulitzer-prize winning author Roland Marks. Joyce’s theme wasn’t difficult to find. No matter how liberated, brilliant, and successful certain women become, they often cannot escape the shadows of the men they love (her theme, not mine, so save your hate mail). Those shadows linger long after those men die. Lou-Lou realizes this and hates herself, her father, and all her father’s ex-wives and girlfriends. Pretty heavy, huh? Serious women’s fiction at its most serious. As an unserious male, I would have called the book “Baggage” or perhaps “Daddy Issues.”
Based on my less-than serious tone you’re probably thinking I’m about to pan Patricide. Remember the short fiction rules, about how the plot must forward quickly or build a scene/characters so riveting they snag the reader? In Patricide, Oates builds characters so brutally real they firmly cement the reader in place. I was unable to tear my eyes off the pages. Oates is a master and shows me very clearly I don’t know the first thing about writing. However, before I forever crawl under a rock with my copy of GET-R-DONE, muttering “I’m not worthy...” over and over, I’ll finish the review.
I couldn’t help feeling both sympathy and revulsion at Lou-Lou. Yes, her brilliant father was a jerk (that’s a serious literary term), but I kept thinking “Get over it!” All my life I’ve never understood why some women are drawn to jerks, whether its abusive fathers, husbands, or boyfriends. Oates shows us several reasons why certain women dig jerks, especially “brilliant” jerks, and why these women are so ready to make themselves human footstools. Frankly, Oates is brutally unkind to her gender in this novella, but I can only assume it’s an honest analysis. She seems to say that women often change who they are to adapt to the men they love once they realize those men can’t or won’t change. It’s an emotional surrender that lasts long after the men leave their lives. Men like Roland Marks are defined by who they are, unchangeable forces of nature, while the women in his life are forever defined by their love for him. These women embrace their emotional scars like badges of honor.
Oates is truly a master and Patricide earns a badge of honor with 96 out of 99 cents.
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